Meet Gunia Project, a Ukrainian Label Fusing Folklore With Fashion
When Kyiv awoke to the Russian invasion last February, Natasha Kamenska and Maria Gavryliuk, founders of the Ukrainian-based fashion and homeware label Gunia Project, were among the many who temporarily relocated to safer regions (Berlin in their case). Reflecting on the harrowing early months of war, they remembered a growing sense of responsibility—not only to their country, but to the Ukraine-based ceramic, metalwork, glass, and textile artisans under their employ. As the two friends brought their business back to life, they thought of their wider community too. A nation’s morale was at stake.
“A lot of friends and clients talked about the stuff they packed that first day,” says Kamenska. “Almost all of them took something of ours—an accessory, or a scarf, or a little small bag. To them, it was like taking a piece of Ukraine.”
Gunia Project celebrates the country’s ancient folklore and history—so much of it threatened by Russian aggression. “Ukrainian people can see the little signs,” Kamenska says, referring to Gunia’s design motifs. But the collections are modern enough to offer a vision of the country’s place on a global stage too. “We are inspired by Ukraine, but we’re making objects that could be in every house around the world,” Kamenska adds.
A current array of color-splashed, hand-painted ceramics (recently available in a Moda Operandi trunk show) features mythical oceanic creatures inspired by 16th-century Ukrainian tile work. Among them are trident symbols, or tryzub—seen in Ukraine’s coat of arms. A necklace with a fist-shaped pendant evokes the village superstition that hiding your hands in your pockets wards off evil eyes. You could call these talismans, but Gunia Project’s wares are less tchotchke Hamsas and more Schiaparelli surreal. After all, Kamenska and Gavryliuk come with fashion credentials, having worked in the industry for over a decade; the two met at the Kyiv-based cool girl label Lake Studio before launching Gunia in 2017.
In March, the pair were part of a New York City–based design fair and silent auction, I Am U Are, that showcased a range of Ukrainian crafts—one bid was signed by the president of Ukraine and the first lady. Next, they will produce a coffee-table book dedicated to the journals of Ivan Honchar, a Ukrainian artist and ethnographer who documented native folk art and textile traditions. Trying new things has always been part of the plan. “We wanted to create a world that we admire and share it with our audience,” says Gavryliuk. “Everything that we love, we try to show it in Gunia Project.”
Gunia oval plate with a Tree of life
Originally Appeared on Vogue